Africa is a tale of two continents

The Africa Economic Outlook report for 2018 is robustly congratulatory of the continent’s economic performance. According to the report, real output is surging and structural reforms are on track. Thanks to “sensible policy frameworks”.

Africa’s GDP has grown in real terms since 2009. Moreover, consumption growth has been strong over the last five years. Hence, private consumption is the most important driver of growth in Africa.

An army of well-educated youth is determined to transform a continent through novel businesses in more than 300 tech hubs across Africa, with 50 per cent of the hubs located in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco.

Knight Frank estimates that African millionaires will rise by 53 per cent to 258,000 in 2024. Rising wealth and prosperity has led to a proliferation of upscale suburbs like Oyster Bay in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Ikeja in Lagos Nigeria and Luanda Sul in Angola. According to Deloitte, sub-Saharan Africa has a rapidly growing consumer market providing the best prospects for long-term growth in sales for luxury brands. This is the story of one Africa.

But there is the other Africa. According to a Unicef and World Bank report on child poverty, 49 per cent of children in sub-Saharan live in extreme poverty. Here in Kenya, a report published by Unicef and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics revealed that 45 per cent of children under 18 live in poverty.

An estimated 36.6 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s children under five were stunted, 8.6 per cent wasted and 19.5 per cent were underweight. Moreover, data from Unesco Institute for Statistics shows that over 20 per cent of children between the ages of six and 11 are out of School, 30 per cent of youth between 12-14 are out of school and about 60 per cent of youth between 15 and 17 years are not in school or training.

In this other Africa, to paraphrase Dr Martin Luther King Jr, dwells an abiding ugliness that transforms the elevating promise of hope into a debilitating fatigue of despondency, hopelessness. In this Africa, women will die because they dared to do something as natural as having a baby. Hundreds of millions of children suffer irreversible growth failure.

In the other Africa tens of millions of youth fail or drop out of primary or secondary school. They drop out or fail not because they are obtuse, but because we have neglected to invest in nutrition, good teachers and learning resources. Tens of millions of our youth roam the countryside and pound urban pavements in search of jobs that don’t exist.

Africa’s infrastructure gap is known. Governments are quick to sign infrastructure deals to build roads, railways and ports. But we can’t sign deals to cut maternal and child mortality or cause mothers to provide nutritious food to their children. No deals can produce learning in schools. No deals will cause smallholder households to produce sufficient food.

But how much should we invest in education, health, water and sanitation to build strong, thriving and equitable communities? Who cares?

Alex O. Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University

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